WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
After being diagnosed with cancer and refusing treatment, Martha moves to a retirement village to simplify her life while she awaits the end. Though prickly at first to all the other residents, she soon sparks up a friendship with the vivacious Sheryl and, despite the protestations of the communities queen bee, the two decide to start a cheerleader club for older women.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
They may serve the same purpose, but there is a world of difference between saccharine and sugar. Neither may be exactly healthy, but while sugar provides a natural, pleasing sweetness, saccharine provides a sweetness that is hollow, artificial and leaves a ghastly after-taste. This applies to sweetening a cup of coffee, obviously, but it also applies to sweetening that most deadly of film genres: the so-called “feel good” comedy.
This might seem an over-exaggeration, and it is, obviously, but there are few films that can make you feel quite as bad as terrible “feel good” comedies. Mixing an embarrassing lack of laughs with enough cynical and thoroughly artificial sentimentality to destroy even the most philanthropic of us.
There are too many examples of this phenomenon to list but for a particularly repugnant example of the “feel good” comedy at its worst, one needs look no further than Adam Sandler’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which is both woefully unfunny and dripping with a sentimentality that is as unearned as it is hypocritical (the film spends all but its last ten minutes making fun of gay people only to turn around at the end and preach tolerance and acceptance in the most two-faced and cloying way imaginable).
For “feel good” films that are flavoured with the right amount of solid laughs and earned sentimentality – or real, natural sugar, if you will – one needs only look at the works of Richard Curtis, who, for all of his detractors, is the very antitheses of Sandler. Films like About Time and Four Weddings and a Funeral remain the high-water mark for this particular genre.
Poms (yes, I was planning on getting to it eventually) sadly falls quite squarely into the former camp. To be sure, it doesn’t come within a thousand light-years of something as truly hateful as the worst Adam Sandler “comedies”, and it’s certainly not mean-spirited but aside for nine out of ten of its jokes falling embarrassingly flat, but all of its overly cheery sentimentality just feels hopelessly and utterly fake. All of it. I’m all for emotional manipulation in films – it’s why I and everyone goes to the movies in the first place – but I prefer the puppet and his (or in this case, her) strings to be just a bit less noticeable than they are here.
What’s especially ironic about how little any of this rings true is that its director/ co-writer (with Shane Atkinson), Zara Hayes, is known exclusively for making documentaries. This is, literally, her first attempt at fiction on either the big or small screens. That the film is incredibly lame is understandable enough as it is her first attempt at a comedy and weak scripts happen to even the best writers, but how did someone who made her name on documenting the lives of real people turn in something this unbelievable, this artificial and this saccharine?
It’s not that Poms needed to be a searing insight into terminal illness or old age – it is a comedy, after all – but the problem is less that it is unable to engender the requisite amount of suspension of disbelief to enjoy something like this but that everything is covered in this sickly, fake sweetness and cuhrazy kookiness that makes anything even potentially enjoyable about it impossible to actually stomach.
Sure, Martha (Diane Keaton in autopilot mode) has the sort of movie cancer that is terminal but aside for the occasional vomit, all but entirely invisible and Jackie Weaver (who is responsible for most of the (meagre) laughs along with Rhea Perlman) plays the most obvious caricature of a larger-than-life, over-sexed, brash American broad but these sort of dips into the unreal are really par for the course for this sort of film. The problem is that Hayes (and Atkinson) take these already potentially cloying elements and drench them in a frankly desperate amount of overly and artificiality sweet cutesiness that it was all I could do to keep down my lunch.
This, I believe, was not the reaction they were presumably going for.